Thursday, October 27, 2011

Something wicked this way comes: Scary tales 3

Chester the SFA theater ghost

I have been doing theater since I was very young. I used to try and put on plays with my friends when I was barely able to read, and started being in plays at church around 4th grade. Middle school and high school were theater intensive for me. I sort of lived and breathed theater back then.

Now if you have ever worked in theater you will know that theater people are super superstitious. I think they rely on their superstitions more than just about anything else. I was once told by an old man who had been doing theater professionally for 60 years that a theater without a ghost was not a theater he would work in. He thought it was bad luck. That seems to be the consensus I have come across. Even if the ghost is not real, every theater I have been in has claimed to have a ghost.

Chester is the ghost at the SFA theater where I attended college. There were several theories to where the ghost came from. One was that the architect that designed the building died of a heart attack upon seeing the finished building and realizing it was facing the wrong direction leaving the beautiful front side facing another building and the loading dock facing the street. This is not true since the loading dock was designed to face the street. How else would we get trucks into it? The second theory, and I think most popular, is that a construction worker fell into the pit before it was installed* and died from the two story fall. The last theory was that a child actually got down into the cavernous basement storage area where the props live and was locked in over a holiday and died. It really could be anything though as our campus was not exactly quiet when it came to spirits (which I will discuss more tomorrow)

Wherever Chester came from, there is no doubt to the students and faculty that there is something there. Ms Nelda, the departmental secretary during my stay at SFA, was said to have and entire Chester file. We were not even allowed to ask one of the tech theater profs about Chester because he had had such a bad experience, and almost every long term student had a run in with him. We even had ghost hunters come in to document Chester. There is actually a theory that Chester is two different ghosts, one good and one evil considering his presence and mischief has been anywhere from chills to attempted murder.

So here are a few Chester stories from my time at SFA and before.

There were several bits of photographic evidence to Chester's existence. The most notable was from a production of the Scottish play. In the scene where the line of ghosts of the house of Banquo appear there is an extra ghost in the photograph.

When I was in high school I attended a summer theater workshop for high school students at SFA. On the last evening of camp, during our final performances there was a campus wide blackout. Something happened to the power grid and there was no power anywhere in the area for about 9 hours. We were on stage at the time when the lights went out. Only the lights did not just go out as is normal in a sudden blackout. Instead the stage went from lit to being completely bathed in bright red light as though every light in the place had red gels on them. After a few moments the red went out and we were left in darkness. I am told that none of the lights had red gels in that shade. Once the lights came back on it was discovered that all of the pictures that hung on the walls in the props rooms had fallen off the walls.

There is a story that one night during a load in for a production a hammer that had been left unattended on top of a ladder suddenly flew off and nearly hit a prof who was walking by. No one was near the ladder at the time and it did not simply drop straight down. It was more like it had been flung at the prof.

I got a phone call one night during my first summer rep program. We were doing a show that required a phone on stage. The sound guy and his best friend were close to me and my roommate at the time. The boys were working on rigging the phone to ring, and we had gone home to get cleaned up after a day of shop work and a night of rehearsals. The game plan had been for us to go back to the theater and meet them if they had not shown up at our apartment by the time we were done getting ready. I answered the phone to an incredibly irritated sound guy telling me in no uncertain terms that we were not funny. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about. He insisted to speak to my roommate. I had to pull her out of the shower to convince him that she was actually with me. It seems that while they were working on the ringer some weird things had started happening. The phone was ringing even when it was disconnected from the device, they could hear giggling and whispering of their names, and that sort of thing. They thought it was us playing a joke on them. The thing was we were at our apartment showering and couldn't have made it back in the time since they heard things. The building was locked and since it was summer there were not many people to hang around.

That same summer rep I was working wardrobe for another show. The show was fairly low maintenance so during the actual run I was alone on my side of the stage most of the night. I was on headset one night and I started hearing whispering over the headset. I thought it was the guys in the booth screwing with me so I told them to cut it out. They swore they were not doing it. I of course didn't believe them. After about the third time of me telling them to shut up I got a rather concerned response from my stage manager asking me if I was alone. When I said I was she sent someone down to come backstage and sit with me. I thought they were screwing with me still so I took the headset off and told the person on stage right to put their headset on as I was tired of their games. After I had switched the headset off I started hearing the whispers again, this time coming from nowhere in particular.

Considering that some shows were more plagued by Chester appearances than others, some of our profs have made attempts to get rid of him. I am told that there was once an attempted exorcism happening at the theater. On that particular day and alumni had stopped by to say hello. The prof she wanted to speak to was involved in the cleansing and asked her to wait down in the greenroom while he attended to some business, not telling her what was happening. She went down and took advantage of the time to pull out some reports she needed to work on. She had not been there but a few minutes before the prof showed up and told her she could come upstairs. She told him she would be up in a minute as she needed to finish what she was doing. He got angry and told her to come upstairs immediately, and she politely told him to piss off. He wasn't her teacher anymore and she wasn't going to be bullied. He stormed off in a fit. A few minutes later the prof came in and told her they were done and she could come upstairs. She snapped at him that she had meant it when she said she would come up when she was done. The prof looked at her confused as it was the first time he had come down to get her. He had been working upstairs the entire time.

When the ghost hunters came to try and document Chester things went pretty well for them. They did at one point think that they had caught major activity but it turned out to be a wardrobe person who had been there late doing hand washing. She had been locked in the laundry room and had no idea what was going on. We still aren't sure who was scared more, her or the camera man. While that was happening in the basement a camera had been set up in the balcony facing the stage. What the camera ended up catching was two orbs coming down from the bell tower and flitting about on the dark stage. The orbs danced around for a minute until they seemed to notice the camera. One orb went back up into the bell tower while the other made a straight line for the camera as though it could knock it over.

*The stage had an automatic lift apron that could be lowered to basement level for easy movement of large props, lowered to create and orchestra pit, or raised to stage level to make the stage larger, or anywhere between for whatever the director needed. It was very cool but without the actual lift there it is a little over a two story drop from stage level to the ground.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I'm such a scaredy cat I'm not sure I could have gone back in :-)